Firstly, apologies for the severe hiatus in my blog posting. I’ve now had some free time to compile my journal entries and supply you with some photographs and articles taken and written during and about my first, amazing experience of Kenya. This was from 8th to 19th June 2013. Here is ‘part 1’:
Now this is an experience I will never forget, and something I don’t think I will do much justice by trying to put it into words but I’ll try my best – however, it’s nice to keep a record of it before I start to lose track of the details.
I really felt there was something truly magical about Kenya. It felt like a beautiful calmness was exuding from the place, like I was meant to be there in that moment, like something I was missing was being offered up to me. Whether that absent feeling was true freedom, genuine discovery, a break from what I know, or a mixture of all of these, I certainly felt phenomenal.
I had booked my Qatar Airways flights whilst I had been in Morocco the month before, amazingly, on my iPhone after several large gin and tonics (being a dry state, the staff didn’t really know the potency of the alcohol they were serving!). This last minute plan fueled my excitement, especially as I didn’t have long to wait (as you get with some holiday plans). I booked in for a travel appointment at the doctor’s and was given a list of injections I would need, had a few needles in the arm, ordered 36,000 Kenyan shillings (which seems like an awful lot, but is around £300), sorted travel insurance, car parking at Heathrow and finished off some website projects ready for the void of activity.
Before I knew it I was driving to Heathrow after double and triple checking my packing, zealous and extremely exhilarated. Music blaring, wishing the weather would worsen in my absence (as you often do, hoping that you’ve chosen the best possible time to avoid miserable weather back at home!), I saw a smartly dressed man about my age displaying the hitch-hiking gesture. In the weeks before, I had said to myself that I’d like to give a hitch-hiker a lift just once and the next time I see one I vowed to stop and give them a lift. Now was my chance, so I indicated into the lay-by and saw him running towards my car in the rearview mirror. After a quick introduction in one of the most strange scenarios I’ve been in, and establishing that Heathrow was perfect for him as he could take the tube from there into the centre of London, I carried on my journey with unexpected company.
He was a very interesting guy; he was a guitar player in a band (called Hollow Giants) that he was off to do band practice with. They were apparently going to meet with the producer of Brian Eno’s music, who knows one the band members and expressed an interest in helping record their first album – pretty exciting stuff! When we were a few miles away from my destination I suddenly remember that I wasn’t actually going straight to Heathrow, I was going to ‘Purple Parking’ and that he would have to try and get on one of the Purple Parking transfer minibuses to get to the airport. Luckily for him, no questions were asked and he managed to hitch another lift. The driver saw his cardboard hitch-hiking sign, which he was folding up to put into his rucksack, and laughed at the thought of him attempting to hitch a plane somewhere! I have heard of that being done, however!
After being dropped off outside Terminal 4 and saying ‘good bye’ and ‘good luck’ to my intentional stowaway, I made a very early check-in and eagerly awaited my flight in Duty Free and the departures lounge. Soon enough, after having something to eat and buying Ashley a couple of bottles of Bombay Sapphire (as he would have been missing his favourite drink!), I boarded the humungous airplane and made my way Eastwards to Doha.
Doha was something like 39 degrees nearing midnight, which was an exceptional and unexpected heat to be hitting you when exiting the plane. I went straight to ‘Transfers’ to be told which gate to look for and then found a WiFi area to check-in and let people know I’d completed the first leg of my journey safely. After what seemed an absolute age, the second leg became available to me. I boarded a plane about a third of the size of the previous one and was in too good a mood to bother mentioning to the person occupying my seat number that they had taken it (despite it being a window seat, chosen the night before via the online check-in). I had a good laugh with the man on the other side of me, who had also been on the flight from London to Doha and had noticed the dramatic size reduction both in plane, leg space and air hostesses (there’s size 0 and then there’s entering into the minus sizes!). We joked that they had to be that thin to fit comfortably down the aisles!
Finally, after it seemed like my arrival was being delayed on purpose to tease me, we landed to a breaking dawn and I was on Kenyan soil. I went through arrivals with ease due to printing and filling in a visa application form weeks before, leaving everyone else behind filling in fresh forms and allowing me to go straight through. I collected my bag and exited to a loud and manic crowd of people holding up signs, but I couldn’t see my name. After 5 minutes of walking around, reading each sign being enthusiastically waved in front of me, I exited ‘centre stage’ and stood amongst them. I finally recognised my personalised banner in the distance and declared with fortitude that I was indeed that person, as if I may have been challenged in some way!
Two men seized my luggage and I speculated that they were random luggage carriers after a bit of cash, and unfortunately I only had 1000 shilling denominations. Worrying about having to turn down an inevitably high tip, they jumped into the Peponi School minibus after placing my baggage on the front seats. My first journey through Nairobi began and I quickly attempted to tighten and secure the dusty lap seatbelt (after my experiences in Morocco of the crazy driving and Ashley’s stories of a similar style in Kenya, I was taking no chances!) but this just led to a dirty pair of jeans and filthy hands. Driving along, the first thing that stuck out to an outsider was the amount of buildings with Coca-Cola or Pepsi advertising on them – apparently, large companies such as these pay for the building or advertising on them and so it has become a popular way to gain some good money in an effortless manner (well, you’re stuck with an advertising boarding for a building, but they obviously don’t seem to mind!).
Half of the distance to Peponi covered and the minibus suddenly stops at a lay-by and lets one of the men who carried my luggage out. Another 10 minutes down the road and the other also disembarks. It transpires that they were friends of the driver and it’s common for people with a vehicle to give friends a ‘day out’ if they see them on their travels. Not long after the second man jumped out we arrived at Peponi School, which is like a mini-Millfield; surrounded by beautiful grounds and littered with almost every sporting facility you can think of.
We come to a stop facing some wooden buildings and I ask the driver to show me where the ‘gap huts’ are, as Ashley had suggested I do when I arrived. He nods and agrees that they are ‘down there’, when I point towards the buildings. I walk around for a five to ten minutes before giving up and sitting down with my luggage, turning on my mobile reception to try and call Ashley. No signal. Great. Okay, well let’s try one more time!
Luckily, one of the ‘gaps’, Katie, came out after noticing a stranger lurking outside and ushered me in. I was introduced to the other gap student, Freya, had a much needed shower and then relaxed for a bit. Ashley had arranged to meet us at The Village Market in Nairobi – he wasn’t able to be there when I arrived as he had originally thought, but it turned out to be a fantastic place to meet up and have lunch. I hadn’t seen Ashley in what seemed like an absolute age, so a strange anticipation and suspense built up the more I waited. To be in the same country as him 5000 miles away from home but not to have met up yet seemed really odd…
More to follow in the coming days…